Part Twenty-Three: Reckoning

I put Illustrious back down on her feet after a tight embrace; I needed to focus on the here and now, not on what might be coming down on my head soon. She was smiling up at me, but her attention went over my shoulder as the footsteps came down the gantry and she said, "Oh, hello."

I turned slightly to see it was Dominion coming down the steps, stepping back slightly so that I could gesture to the both of them, I said, "Illustrious, may I introduce you to HMS Dominion, second of the Conqueror-class."

I watch as Dominion runs a hand through her hair, flicking it off to the side while she looks up and away before she fixes Illustrious with a sideways look, looking to me and then back to Illustrious, "You have my sympathies for being burdened with him."

I can't tell if she's joking or not, I take a peek at Illustrious and see her blink a couple of times like she's trying to process it too. It takes a moment, but I spot the subtle upward curl at the edges of her lips and it clicks with me, she has a very subtle sense of humor. Dominion turns her attention to me before she says, "You should get some rest; the fleet inspection will begin in a few hours… after He is done resting."

I give her a nod, my insides still twisted in knots, while Illustrious tugs on my arm before whispering, "Who?"

I pat her arm before I whisper back, "I'll tell you later."

Directing my next statement to Dominion, "While you're here, I'd be more than happy to show you around, once I've gotten some sleep.", I offer.

She nods and makes a gesture with her hand towards the base as she says "Go… I have a feeling I'm going to be bombarded with people trying to get onto my hull in short order."

I give her a nod before turning and heading down the path from the docks to the dormitory, once we were most of the way there, I finally told Illustrious who was on board Dominion, and she seemed to stiffen up considerably, especially after I told her what transpired on my hull and how my fate may still be on the chopping block. I felt her link arms with me, pulling my arm close to her as she rested her head on my shoulder and said, "Then I will hold you till sleep takes you… you've been up all night and need some rest."

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When I awoke and checked my phone, I saw that most of the day had vanished; it was already closing in on mid-day. I sat up and looked around my room to see that I was alone, but the balcony doors had been left open slightly, and a soft breeze was blowing the curtains slightly. I swung my legs out of the bed and hurried over to close the balcony door before I looked around the room to make sure I was in the right place. When I left the bedroom, I noticed that Illustrious must be out, as her shoes were not by the door, but several of her other pairs were. I took some time to make a cup of tea and settled down on the couch to try and wake up and get my head right.

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With my tea in hand, I check my phone and see that a Fleet Review has been added to the schedule for this evening. When I check to see who signed off on it, I see a certain half-pint's mark. I guess even she knows who's come to visit, then…

I drop my phone onto the couch and lean my head back as I think about how His Majesty had already inspected me from bow to stern, and I start thinking about things. I mean, I know that Sovereign is getting her chance at life now, the Crown could very well have the uniformity they want with their Flagships now; I mean I am the odd one out. I never should've existed, perhaps I should be ready for the end… my only regret is I'll be leaving Illustrious alone now.

I'm pulled from my thoughts by a knock on my door, I push myself up and twist the handle, and crack the door open slightly before I go back and sit on the couch. I hear the door open all the way and close shortly after. I know that it won't be Illustrious, she has keys. I can hear whoever it is, taking off their footwear before they approach. I twist slightly to see who it could be as they come around the corner and I see my mother, not in her royal knight's uniform, rather she's dressed in a pastel shirt and matching skirt. I watch as she looks around before smiling at me, "This is a nice place, still looks like it needs some stuff put away though."

I offer her a smile and say, "Water's hot if you want some tea."

I hear her go into the kitchen and start to pour some tea before, she comes and sits beside me and asks, "So, His Majesty…"

I nod, sipping on my own tea before I answer, "I knew someone was coming, but I didn't know who."

She blinks a few times and says, "You knew?"

I nod again before adding, "I've known for months… Conqueror told me that someone was coming, and that they would be on Dominion…"

I pause for a moment, and turn my cup in my hands a few times before I say, "He said I was an 'unfortunately inconvenient truth'."

Wales is silent for a while before she asks, "You're worried you'll be bound for the scrap yard."

With a nod I tell her, "I know the Crown has already laid down Sovereign again, he also said I am an expense that during peacetime is hard to justify."

I feel myself getting pulled over and my head lands on something soft, I can hear my mother's heartbeat as she starts to stroke my left arm, her chin resting on the top of my head before she says, "Oh Mitchel…"

I sigh and say, "Mom, aside from you and Illustrious, I get the feeling that no one wants me around."

She keeps stroking my arm with one hand while the other strokes my hair and head as she says, "It's not just me and Illustrious. York, Howe, and George all have great love for you too… You are family to us. I'm also sure Conqueror has love for you as well."

I blink a few times, pushing back tears that are welling up as I say, "I wish I hadn't wasted all that time, not knowing you Mom. And now I feel like I am looking directly into the void…"

She squeezes me tightly before saying, "Then don't let anyone toss you in."

It took me a lot longer than it really should've to follow along with that, she wants me to fight like hell to avoid being ended. That makes me think of something that U-47 told me, and I sigh before saying, "I know I've got options… none of them good... but if things go bad, I'll be left with no choice."

She leans me up, cupping my cheeks as she says, "I don't want to know what they are. If I don't know, I don't have to report anything."

I give her a forced smile, before wrapping her in an embrace, "Thanks Mom."

I feel her rub my back with her hands before she says, "Now, should we go to the range? His Majesty is watching every battleship of the fleet display their ability, Queen Elizabeth and Warspite included. He's measuring them against Dominion's ability."

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I stood on the water, just outside of the training area, my rigging was already around me and my mother beside me. I look over my shoulder at her and ask, "Don't you need to be down there?"

She nods and says, "I'm heading down there now… I'm going to goad Dominion into displaying her ability again, when she does, take your shot from here."

I give her a nod, and take a breath to center myself while she skims off to the training area. I focus on the collection of kansen, seeing the majority of the KGV-class standing on the sideline, the King sitting on a chair watching, with Dominion standing just behind him to the right. Out on the water right now, I see the half-pint, clearly looking irritated that she even has to take part in this. I can't help but smile, it's nice to see that she has to bend the knee to someone.

I watch as she aims at the target Drone, a heavy cruiser of Eagle Union design; two turrets in the front and one in the rear. I see as it starts to turn, trying to avoid being hit. The half-pint lets fly a salvo and it lands around the target, I take a look at the King and he appears unimpressed. The drone continues to turn, exposing the broadside, but I know it's a trick. The half-pint finishes her reloading cycle and aims again, losing her shells all over again.

The shots look true, but the drone turns in, just like I expected, deflecting her shells off of the angled armor plates. I look back to the King and I see him gesture to Dominion before he whispers something to her. I look back to the half-pint and I can tell she's frustrated and likely embarrassed at this performance. I sigh to myself, and take aim with my A and B turrets, I know my shells will punch right through it from any angle.

I plant my feet while I predict where it is going to be and most aggressively angled. I take a slow breath in, holding it for a moment while I finish my prediction and let out the breath just as slowly before I fire. The sound of thunder, the heat of the muzzle flashes, and the depression of the water in front of me all happen at once. I remember the first time I fired like this; I had almost fallen over backward.

I follow the arcs of my shots; I can sense them approaching the drone. Then just like every other time I've done this, they slam home, even bow in, deep into the hull before exploding in the drone. This time however, I managed to hit the forward magazine with one of my shots. The forward turret goes flying off into the sky, flame and smoke following it up before the front half of the ship explodes into twisted burning scrap. From where I am I see Dominion move with her rigging to quickly shield the king from any possible incoming debris, I can also sense the attention of the kansen down at the target range looking in my direction, having announced my presence, I have little choice but to make myself present.

It didn't take me long to go the rest of the distance down there, once I had gotten down there, His Majesty stood on the shoreline, again Dominion flanking him, but it was the look on her face that said everything, I had done something she herself couldn't do. On His Majesty, I could see the gears turning in his mind, he had been curious before about my guns, and now he saw himself just how powerful they are. What surprised me was the half-pint, she smiled at me as she said, "While we thank you for the aid, Thunderer, we had everything well inha-"

She was silenced when the His Majesty looked at her and said one word, "Elizabeth."

He stepped forward, closer to the water's edge, and started to walk around me as much as he could; I could feel his eyes on my turrets, and he asked, "Is that display easy for you to repeat?"

I fidget a little before I say, "I'm not sure about striking a forward magazine, but my guns seem to be able to punch through the armor on those drones, no matter how aggressively they are angled."

He crosses around in front of me again, I see him nod as he looks to Dominion and says to her, "I want to have a chat with the Eagle Union's president… I want to secure eight more of those guns for Sovereign."

I see Dominion nod before the king turns his attention back to me, I can see he is still thinking hard on something before he says to me, "You have given the Crown much to think about. Thunderer, you are exempt from the review this evening."

I give him a bow, before I step onto the sand and set my hull back in the water as I reply to him, "Yes, Your Majesty."

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That evening, I'm back in my quarters, and I look up at the clock and sigh; the review is likely starting shortly. I hear a knock at my door, I tilt my head to the side before opening it to see Dominion standing there, a take-out box in one hand and a pack of beers in the other. I tilt my head to the side questioningly and she asks, "Can I come in? I brought dinner…"

I shrug and step to the side to allow her entry. I watch as she steps in, handing me the food and drink as she takes off her boots before heading to the couch. She looks around and says, "It looks like you just moved in…"

I put the food down on the coffee table, taking a beer out of the pack and popping off the cap before I reply, "I did."

After taking a sip, I recognize the flavor as one that I had at the Atlantic base. I add, "Last night was going to be my first night in here with Illustrious."

Dominion takes one for her own and opens up the take-out box, and I can't help but grin, fish and chips, she brushes her hair behind her ears as she says, "Prince of Wales said this was something you liked…"

I take a seat beside her and pop a couple of chips in my mouth as I nod before asking, "So what brings you by?"

Dominion shifts a little while sipping from her bottle, "He was really impressed by the way. You're making this really hard on him."

I give off a sigh, leaning forward while clutching my bottle in both hands, "Good. I'd hate it to be an easy choice to send me for scrap."

I see it for a moment, a look of surprise on her face before she puts her beer down and she shakes her head, "I shouldn't be telling you this, but you are not going to be scrapped. He's trying to figure out who is going to be the Flagship out here, at least until Sovereign is finished."

Oh.

I think my surprise is all over my face as she adds, "Today was about seeing who had the ability as well as exposing Queen Elizabeth as less capable than she would present."

Dominion shifts how she's sitting again, breaking off of a bite of fish and dipping it in the tartar sauce before she continues, "Even I was surprised to see how poorly she did out there today… I mean, it's true her guns are bigger than those on the KGV-class, but the KGV's could at least hit with the first salvo and cause damage, by knowing when to switch ammunition types."

She pauses to take another bite, before looking at the fish and saying, "Blimey that's good! Anyways, as I was saying, His Majesty is having a hard time picking between you and Prince of Wales as interim Flagship."

I blink a couple of times before I feel like a massive weight has been taken off my shoulders, "I don't want it. I don't want to be the Flagship… Let my mother take the spot, she's put in more work towards it."

I watch as Dominion leans back against the couch, crossing her knees before she says, "By all accounts, she should. The problem is when the announcement comes down, is she going to be loyal to the Crown or to QE?"

I take a bite of the fish, to buy some time before asking my next question, "What's going to happen to the half-pint and her attack dog?"

Dominion blinks a few times, I think I took her by surprise by being so relaxed with her on how I thought of the half-pint and Warspite. After she recovers from the surprise she asks, "Not a fan of them?"

I shake my head before really walking her through the issues between me and the half-pint, and how Warspite is an enforcer for her. I watch as she looks around before whispering to me, "The plan is for her to report to Portsmouth and become a museum ship at the dockyard there, while Warspite is to be bound for Devonport for the same."

I sit back against the couch; I'm completely taken by surprise by this information, part of me feels bad for the half-pint and another part of me feels that this is justice for being such a pain in my ass. After a few moments I ask her, "Who do you think should be the interim flagship, you seem to have… some sway over His Majesty."

I see her cheeks heat a little before she diverts her attention to the food and says, "I've heard that you used to manage the base here, that makes a strong case for you to lead it, but working against that is the fact that you are new to being kansen. Plus, you also said you don't want it, so I'll suggest that Wale takes the position for now."

I nod, taking a sip of my beer before inquiring, "When would this take effect?"

"As soon as we turn for home, His Majesty wants to deliver the news personally to QE, just to make sure that the orders were received." She says taking some of the chips.

After she finishes that bite, I watch as she gets up and crosses the room to look at some pictures of me and Illustrious, before she says in an off-handed way, "Congratulations, by the way. From both me and His Majesty, we're both looking forward to our invitations."

I blink a few times and she turns slightly to look over her shoulder, again a slight curl at the edges of her mouth at my confusion, "For your wedding to Illustrious. His Majesty attended the one for King George V and Sir Hawker a few years ago here."

I feel the corners of my mouth starting to turn upwards as I say, "But I didn't say anything about it…"

Dominion laughs a little, putting down one of the pictures as she says, "His Majesty is going to flex what power he does have over both the House of Lords and Parliament by the Crown proclaiming that kansen are a people, to be afforded all rights and freedoms enjoyed by a citizen of the United Kingdom. He would like this proclamation to coincide with a wedding between you and Illustrious."

I'm stunned by this. Once I recover from it I tilt my head to the side and ask, "What about you and His Majesty, would this let you be more open about your relationship?"

Her cheeks go bright red and she fidgets before replying, "I would like that, but I understood when this started, that it wasn't likely to happen."

I sit back a little before eating some more fish as I say to her, "So? If we're going to be considered a people, a wedding between you and him sends a much stronger message."

Dominion brushes her hair again, blushing brightly with a slight smile as she says, "I couldn't possibly…"

"Sure you could." I say to her, before I add, "Worst that could happen is he can't, but if he's half as smart as I think he is, he'll see the political advantages to it."

She recovers quickly, adjusting her uniform jacket over her skirt before she turns to face me, she takes a moment to look at the clock before she says, "I'll head off now, the review should be finishing up in an hour or two… Illustrious should be here shortly after and I figure you'll want to tell her the good news in private."

I give her a nod and escort her to the door, once she has her boots back on I say, "Dominion…"

She looks up at me, her head tilts to the side before I wrap her up in a hug as I say to her, "Thanks. Thanks for telling me all of this."

I feel one of her hands pat my back as she says, "Conqueror is the touchy-feely one…"

I laugh as I squeeze tighter, "I'd always wanted siblings growing up, almost as much as I had wanted to know my mom, so you're going to have to get used to being hugged by me when you visit."

Once I let go of her, Dominion gives me a sideways look before she says, "Then I'll avoid visiting."

I'm a little hurt by this, but then I spot her subtle smile and I smile before I say, "But you'll want to."

That breaks through and she laughs, leaning in for another quick hug before she bids me good night. As soon as the door closes, I hear my phone trill a message and I pick it up to see it's from Illustrious, 'Going to the pub for dinner with Wales after the review, I'll be home late.'

I smile and sit down on the couch as I think about tonight and how it went, what I learned, and how much better I feel before I send back, 'Okay, have a good time.'

When I get back a smiley face I settle in for finishing the fish and chips and beer in front of the TV as a good movie comes on.

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I'd been asleep for hours when I felt someone climb into bed beside me, scooting in close to me. I place an arm over her waist as a very familiar floral scent fills my nose, "Did you have a good time?"

"Oh! I didn't mean to wake you…" she says to me

I smile and squeeze her tightly, "It's alright, but did you have a good time?"

"I did, the review was a little frustrating… His Majesty spent a long time with me, asking me all kinds of odd questions…" she pauses for a moment before asking, "How was your night?"

"Pretty good, I learned I'm not going to be scrapped." I say to her.

I hear her sigh happily, "Well that's good at least."

"There's more…" I start to say before I pause to kiss the top of her head, "His Majesty is intending to force the powers that be to declare the kansen as a people… he's also going to give us permission to marry."

I feel Illustrious roll in the bed to face me as she asks, "How did you find all of this out?"

"Dominion came by, we talked… a lot. You heard about the practice today right?" I ask her.

"I did, I heard you made quite the entrance…" She teases me.

"That I did, but I know why it was happening…" I start to say to her.

"Tell me! I must know!" she says, pushing me onto my back.

"Well…" I start to say as I pull her onto me and stroke the side of her face.

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A/N: Chapter 23 done! We are moving into the final chapter or two now, thank you to everyone that has stuck with this story till now, I do appreciate it.